César Azpilicueta’s growth a boon for both club and country

by Win Soon

César Azpilicueta ChelseaThe question of how to pronounce César Azpilicueta Tanco’s tongue twisting surname is one that is asked more often than questions on his performances on the pitch. César joined Chelsea Football Club in 2012 amid an influx of Europe’s brightest young stars (Eden Hazard, Oscar). Any fan could be forgiven for missing the quiet arrival of the Spanish right back, who made his name at La Liga Club Osasuna.

Emerging at Osasuna at only 18 years old, César started his career as a midfielder (right wing). While he found first team opportunities hard to come by, a string of injuries to the first team players eventually earned him a call up by then manager, José Ángel “Cuco” Ziganda. A subsequent tactical switch to right back would be the move that placed Azpilicueta in the spotlight. In the next few years, Azpilicueta would chalk up 99 appearances for the club and began establishing himself as one of Spain’s exciting defensive talents. César caught the eye with his pace and defensive strengths. However, the emergence of other talents in the La Liga such as eventual teammate Juan Mata and Racing Santander Sergio Canales directed the spotlight away from the right back.

Fortunately, Azpilicueta eventually caught the eye of French club Marseille who negotiated a 7 million euro deal to take him to France. Azpilicueta arrived full of promise but his debut would be one to forget; Azpilicueta scored an own goal in a match against Spartak Moscow, condemning his side to defeat. This was soon followed by a horrific 6 month layoff due to an Cruciate Ligament rupture, an injury that threatened to derail his career. Fortunately, Azpilicueta showed great mental strength and resilience to return and play in the 2011/2012 season, achieving his best form for the club. Inevitably, a big move would come. That materialized in the form of London powerhouse Chelsea who came calling with a 7 million euro bid.

For Chelsea, Azpilicueta’s arrival could not have come at a better time.

The right back position is a weakness that Chelsea has failed to address since the era of Jose Mourinho. This is problem has been further obscured by the struggles of Torres up front, which has invariably directed the attention of the masses away from the problem at right back. For the past few seasons, Chelsea have relied on Ivanovic, a center defender, to play in the right back position. While Ivanovic has deputized admirably, the Serbian is approaching the twilight of his career and a replacement was needed. For Azpilicueta, he arrived as the club’s only true right back.

He is a strong running right-back who has pace as well, so I think he is already a complete player.

These words from Juan Mata, a friend he knew since 16, may have been an over estimation. Yet, it does show how frightening a prospect Azpilicueta is. At only 23, Azpilicueta has amassed 5 years worth of experience in the French and Spanish top flight. In a few short weeks since Rafa Benitez’s arrival, Azpilicueta was trusted with the first team spot and gradually became his first choice at right back. Even if critics argue that this was due to the club’s lack of another decent right back or pure “Spanish Favouritism”.

While not yet as established as the other right backs in the league, Azpilicueta managed to hold his own against the premier league’s best attackers. Much of that is a result of his impressive physical attributes and technicality.

Unnoticed to many, Azpilicueta has got pace and a work attitude to match. In fact, he is one of the top players in terms of ground covered consistently in every match. Like a “Ramires” playing in a right back role. He is also solid defensively (1 on 1) and showed in that in a 3-0 against Paris St Germain (2011), where he won back possession for Marseille a staggering 18 times! Furthermore, he provides new dimensions to the side’s attacking play with his constant mazy dribbles from defence to attack. At his best, Chelsea have another full back in the mold of “Ashley Cole”, a player boasting the perfect blend of attacking and defensive skills. Add that level of technicality to Azpilicueta’s incredible work rate and you get a tireless marauding full back that could form the bedrock of Chelsea’s defence for years to come.

However, Azpilicueta is not without faults. While he arrived highly acclaimed from Marseille, the Spaniard has endured a less than spectacular start to his Chelsea career. Many agree that his final ball has been sub par and draws the bulk of criticism he receives. The Spaniard is not the best deliverer of crosses, a skill he has yet to regain (an irony since he started his career as a winger). Furthermore, Azpilicueta has yet to adapt the defensive side of his game to the rigors of English football. Some may point out that this is due to his lack of understanding of the game or “footballing brain” as some would say.

One might remember how Swansea winger Routledge gave him a torrid time in the 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium recently, where he had arguably his worst performance of the season. In that game and many others before, Azpilicueta was frequently caught out of position and struggled to shut down attacks.These short comings only accentuate his poor reading of the game, an area that was seemingly less exploited when he was playing in France. For many modern fullbacks, achieving the perfect balance between defence and attack is crucial to success. Azpilicueta has to incorporate that aspect into his game to utilize his technical strengths efficiently.

While Rafa Benitez has continued to stick by his man, Azpilicueta should know that the luxury of time is one he does not have.

It is true that he might find opportunities easy to come by this season, yet the same cannot be said of the next. Sadly, in a club where the size of transfer fees dictates play time and where managers/players exit frequently through the club’s revolving doors, the future is uncertain for any starlet hoping to make his mark. It is common for stars to lose their place in the Chelsea squad with the arrival of new players in the transfer windows. Azpilicueta’s place is already threatened by firm interest from the Chelsea board in buying other right backs such as Wallace from Fluminese. Hence, it is important for him to cement his place this season as a first team regular for his career to flourish.

Such success at Chelsea can only be cultivated with an uncharacteristic patience from the board and manager(s). Fans can only hope that such patience will be awarded to him, lest they lose a solution to Chelsea’s long standing right back problem. On the other hand, Vincente Del Bosque (Manager of the Spain National Team) will also be hoping for Azpilicueta’s success, in hope of finding the solution to resolve a similar long standing issue with the Spanish team.

For all their attacking talent, Spain has lacked a proper right back ever since Sergio Ramos shifted into the center of defence. For a long time, Alvaro Arbeloa has taken the mantle of right back as his own. Yet as he reaches 30 years old, Vincente Del Bosque should know that a replacement is needed. While the emergence of Jordi Alba has solved a long standing reliance on Joan Capdevilla at left back, Spain has insufficient capable replacements for Arbeloa (unless Ramos shifts back to the right). Therefore, Azpilicueta’s growth is even more crucial at this juncture. The Chelsea right back may not have much experience in international football but is perhaps the best performing Spanish right back at the moment. Should Azpilicueta improve, it would not be a surprise to see him granted a call up to the Spanish first team in the near future.

The future looks bright for César Azpilicueta. All he has to do is make full use of the opportunities given to him. Fail that and he will lose his place to another marquee buy in the next transfer window. For ardent supporters of the Spanish team and Chelsea Football club, their fingers remain crossed, in hope that César Azpilicueta can finally solve the right back conundrum that has plagued both sides in recent years.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply